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Eggplant Raita

5 Nov

Diwali, the festival of lights, is my favorite Indian festival. The week leading up to Diwali and the week of, the spirit of this festival reverberates throughout India. People dress in vibrant, ornate outfits; visit their friends and family, exchange gifts and sweets and feast on several traditional delicacies. The sounds, sights and smells of fireworks are omnipresent in every city, town and village. Families adorn their homes with earthen lamps, floral garlands and colorful rangoli (decorative designs made on the floors with colored powders). It is truly the brightest, most jovial and exhilarating time of the year in India.

Sadly, this is also the time of the year I truly yearn to be in India. Despite all efforts, I am unable to recreate in the US the Diwali spirit I experienced growing up in India. The closest I get to it is through the annual Diwali dinner that we host. Our friends dress-up in festive Indian outfits, and join us for a fun night that includes plenty of eating and drinking. I work diligently each Diwali to cook and share my favorite celebratory Indian recipes with my friends and family.

The very first year, I was hosting one of these Diwali dinners, I fell sick right before the event and my mother-in-law helped me out by preparing a few dishes. She made this eggplant raita that was the star of the night and a few years later my friends still remember it fondly. A raita is an Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi side dish that is made with yogurt and is a common accompaniment to a rice dish. The fruit, vegetable, crunch or flavor that can be added to a raita is only limited by your imagination.

This raita highlights lightly fried eggplant slices in a flavorful and slightly spicy yogurt mixture that’s tempered with mustard seeds and curry leaves. This is a radiant side dish or a wonderful mini-meal anytime of the day.

Eggplant Raita Recipe:
Minal Moraji (My mother-in-law’s) recipe
Yields: 6-8 servings (Based on eggplant size)
Time: 25 minutes

Ingredients:
1-1½ cups of vegetable or canola oil
1 American or Italian eggplant, cut into ½ inch rounds (Leave the skin on)
3 cups plain non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon of water
1 teaspoon table salt (Use less or more per your taste)
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
A pinch of asafoetida (See note)
8-10 curry leaves
½ teaspoon chili powder
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro for garnish

Notes:

  • Asafoetida (known as Hing in India), has a very pungent aroma, so be careful not to add more than a pinch as it will over-power the rest of the flavors.
  • The eggplant can be fried and set aside in an airtight container a day before this dish is to be served. The yogurt can also be prepared a day before and stored in the refrigerator. Only add the yogurt mixture to the eggplant 5-10 minutes before you are going to serve it.
  • This raita is great by itself or as a complement to a spicy biryani or pulao.

Method
1) In a 10 or 12 inch skillet heat 1 cup of oil on medium to high heat.
2) When the oil is ready add the eggplant in batches and pan fry them on each side till they are a light brown in color and fully cooked through. Do not overcrowd the pan and ensure that the eggplant slices do not overlap. Overcrowding the pan brings down the oil temperature and increases cooking time. If you have a large eggplant and run out of oil, heat the remaining half cup of oil and then resume frying the remaining slices of eggplant.
3) Place the cooked eggplant slices on a plate lined with a kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.
4) Beat the yogurt with the water and salt, until it is smooth and lump free.
5) In a small skillet heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds start to splutter, add the asafoetida. Turn off the stove and remove the skillet from it. Add the curry leaves right away and then after another minute add the red chili powder. Add this tempering to the yogurt and mix well. Taste and adjust the salt if you need to.
6) When ready to serve, layout the eggplant slices on a serving platter and cover them with the yogurt. Garnish with cilantro. Serve immediately.

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